Tuesday, November 28, 2023

École à Torbé welcomes students

History made with opening of French first-language school

  • September 20 2023
  • By Corey LeBlanc    

LARRY’S RIVER — The first day of school each year is always a special one. But, in 2023, for a group of more than 20 students in this region, it served as a history-making experience.

The group – from pre-primary to Grade 9 – are pioneers; the original class at École à Torbé, the French first-language public school that opened on Sept. 8.

“There were a lot of smiles,” Jennifer Delorey – a member of the Tor Bay Area Parent/CSAP (Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial) Liaison Group, which helped lead the lobbying to bring the first school of its kind to the Acadian region of Tor Bay – told The Journal.

She joined parent group core members, including Kristen Conway-Sangster and Emily Doyle, along with Societe Acadienne de Torbé President Jude Avery, “to support the students and staff as they marked this historic moment in time.”

The inaugural year at École à Torbé began a couple of days after other CSAP schools welcomed the return of students across the province on Sept. 6.

Although a couple of days behind their counterparts, that is a mere drop in the bucket considering CSAP – Nova Scotia’s lone French first language school board – received provincial approval to open the school less than three months ago, on June 23.

Looking at the delay through a broader lens, the dream of bringing what is now École à Torbé (the permanent school name will be chosen in a contest) to the Tor Bay region has been on the radar for students, families and friends for almost three decades; not to mention on the agendas of tireless community champions, such as Avery, who have always espoused the vital role a French first-language public school to the preservation and celebration of Acadian culture, history and language.

So a two-day delay in reaching such a milestone is but a little bump on the road during a long journey.

Considering the quick turnaround, when it comes to readying École à Torbé for its first semester in 2023, it is not surprising that students have started their academic year in a temporary home. When the bell rang for those first classes, they were housed at Communities Along the Bay Multi-Use Facility in Larry’s River. While outdoor activities, at this point, are taking place on the grounds of that community complex, CSAP is working on an agreement with the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) to use the Chedabucto Lifestyle Complex (CLC) in Guysborough for some programs.

CSAP Directeur Général (Superintendent) Michel Collette, in a Sept. 18 phone interview with The Journal, described the recent opening of the new school as “such a good news story.”

“People have really worked hard to make this happen,” he said.

As for adding upper grade levels – 10, 11 and 12 – the goal is to add one per year, as needed.

As outlined in the provincial statement announcing construction of a CSAP school for the Tor Bay region, officials indicated that spending time in a temporary facility (which became the Communities Along the Bay Multi-Use Facility) would lead to a move into modular classrooms.

“They will be new,” Collette said of those buildings, noting that they will “look like a normal classroom.”

Stressing the marked differences between modular buildings and mobile trailers, which are sometimes used as a temporary measure for schools bulging at the seams, he explained that the former are placed on foundations. Modular buildings boast everything from air conditioning to “big windows,” according to Collette.

Because of the more involved aspects of using modular buildings, CSAP officials do not expect their arrival in Larry’s River until between December 2023 and March 2024.

Noting that the purchase of the five modular buildings is “budgeted for this fiscal year,” Collette said that he is “fairly confident” that they will arrive within that time frame, while pointing out that aspect of the process is a provincial government responsibility.

As for when the bricks-and-mortar process will begin, he added that it is “government dependent.”

Collette explained that, “from announcement to final build,” the traditional timeline in recent times for school construction is five to seven years. Because of that multi-year span, he reminded, that is why CSAP selected the modular route for the interim.

When it comes to the start of construction, Collette explained the province has yet to “build approve” the physical school building, so no site selection process has been initiated. He noted that they are having an “ongoing conversation” regarding moving forward with the other aspects of the initiative. Collette said that, in recent weeks, CSAP has focused on readying the school to open in September.

With word of the new school, officials noted that approximately 50 families had voice their interest in continuing or beginning their French first-language education in Larry’s River. On that historic first day of school at École à Torbé, more than 20 students shuffled into their new school home.

Collette noted that CSAP officials are pleased with those beginning numbers, considering parents and guardians received only a few weeks’ notice (of the option) with provincial approval coming in June. And, even with that greenlight from the province, they were unsure if everything required to get up and running could be completed by early September.

With each year, he offered, CSAP expects student numbers to increase.

“[By] quite a bit more,” Collette said of the enrolment target of 50 and 60 to 100 students.

Delorey spoke more about being amongst those on hand to welcome the first-time École a Torbé students.

“It was very exciting to greet them,” she offered of those getting off the first CSAP school bus arriving that morning.

Delorey said, “There was excitement and pride on everyone’s faces.”